(NaturalNews) The cognitive decline caused by dementia can be slowed by as simple a measure as brighter daytime lighting, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
One of the most difficult symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia for caregivers to cope with is the disruption of the patient's circadian rhythms - the day/night cycle that tells them when to sleep and when to wake. Because the hormone melatonin is known to play a role in regulating circadian rhythms, as is exposure to bright daytime light, researchers designed an experiment to see if these factors could influence the progression of dementia.
The study was conducted on 189 residents of several different care homes. The majority of the patients had been diagnosed with dementia.
The researchers installed bright lighting in six of the care homes, and turned it on every day between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. At both these homes and those without the extra lighting, some of the patients were given melatonin and some were not.
Compared with patients that had received neither melatonin nor extra light, the patients treated with melatonin alone showed better sleep patterns, but at the cost of a worse mood and increased social withdrawal. Patients receiving both melatonin and daytime light, however, had better sleep patterns without any negative side effects.
Patients treated with light alone experienced a 19 percent drop in depressive symptoms and a 5 percent lower rate of cognitive decline.
"Although 5 percent may not sound like a huge amount, it compares well with treatments such as Aricept designed to slow the progression of the illness," said Michael Hastings of the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge, who was not involved in the study. "Over the course of Alzheimer's, it could represent six months, and you have to remember that the light therapy is completely non-invasive, and melatonin is a very gentle drug."